Trigger Warning: This article discusses topics related to mental health and illness that some readers may find upsetting, such as suicide. Resources are available at the end of the article.
A complaint filed against Alpha Psi Sorority alleged hazing and discrimination based on mental health, according to two documents obtained by The Gateway and confirmed in an interview with the complainant. The president of the sorority said the documents were “handled incorrectly,” by being posted to the University of Alberta Students’ Union (UASU) website.
The first document was a Final Complaint Investigation Report from Student Group Services (SGS), and the second document identified that the Student Group Committee (SGC) decided to change the sorority’s status to “provisional recognition.”
In an in-camera session with no guests allowed, the SGC presented the documents to Students’ Council on February 7. Afterwards, those confidential documents were publicly posted to the UASU website on February 8, as part of a larger group of documents that are usually posted after a Students’ Council meeting.
The Gateway informed the UASU that the documents were accessible on the website on February 10 and they were subsequently taken down that day at approximately 2 p.m..
Through SGS, The Gateway reached out to the complainant offering them the opportunity to comment anonymously. She agreed to an interview, however wanted to do so with her real name.
Vivienne Shaw said that the chance to speak publically would allow her to reclaim her story.
“For all these years, I haven’t been able to control my own narrative,” she said. “I really want to attach my name to this to say: these things happened to me.”
Report outlines allegations of hazing, discrimination on mental health
A Final Complaint Investigation Report from SGS describes two incidents that happened to the complainant, a former member of the sorority.
First, Shaw alleges that hazing rituals took place during their initiation in March 2020. The second incident included “discriminatory behaviour, disregard for constitution, [and] unacceptable risk” in the winter 2021 semester, following her becoming an “inactive member” due to personal matters.
The allegations of hazing described how pledges were “strongly encouraged to blindfold themselves” before being taken to two unknown locations. In the first location, they recited a speech in the snow. In the second, they were taken to a basement where they would be staying for the weekend. “Initiated members were allowed to leave, but not the pledges,” according to the report.
Pledges had their electronics taken away, and basement windows and clocks were covered, which the report said made it difficult to tell what time of day it was. Pledges were also told to dispose of any personal possessions that others did not have “to promote equality.” The report said that pledges also cooked for everyone in the house and initiated members would keep pledges “awake for hours without a choice, doing several activities such as blindfolded and spoken rituals.”
The second incident occurred in January 2021 and included a series of events Shaw “felt were targeted,” the report said. This included changes to her responsibilities and privileges within the sorority.
“The complainant felt discriminated against during the events investigated due to her mental health, on the basis of her membership being revoked and her being put on financial probation without notice or explanations.”
These events escalated, which “exacerbated pre-existing mental health concerns and led to elevated emotional distress which resulted in hospitalizations and now consistent psychotherapy,” according to the report.
The report said that Shaw felt the house was an unsafe environment for her with the executive members around, which “caused her to hide in the basement.”
The situation escalated to the point where she attempted to die by suicide, the report said.
During her recovery in hospital, Shaw was told she was put on probation from the sorority by the executive board. Following her release from the hospital, Residence Services contacted her and “removed her from the Alpha Psi Sorority house to keep her safe,” according to the report.
In May 2021, following a recommendation from the alumni jury to “disaffiliate the complainant from Alpha Psi with no alum privileges,” the chapter voted to accept the recommendation.
SGS received the complaint in May 2022. An investigation was launched, in accordance with UASU bylaws.
The summary of events in the report were written “from the complainant’s point of view only,” which is mentioned in a disclaimer. Additional details were given by the current president of the sorority, but the investigation lacks first-hand testimony from other members present during the incidents.
The respondent, Alpha Psi, said that the events left a long-term impact on the group, according to the report. Because of that impact, the investigators “concluded that it was in the best interest of all involved parties to not interview many witnesses.”
“In order to reduce the chance of retraumatizing respondents, we chose to take testimony from the current president and advisors in lieu of such. While this may have led to us having more information from the complainant, we believe that the risk was higher than the reward in this case.”
Shaw said that the SGS decision to not interview others involved in the investigation “felt kind of insulting.”
“I understand that this situation was awful for everybody on all sides but … it just hurt to know that they’re off limits because they’re so traumatized. They didn’t show too much concern for how much I was traumatized, probably due to the fact that I was the one making the complaint.”
Alpha Psi “has a zero tolerance for hazing,” president says
Rylie Spink, president of Alpha Psi, said in an email to The Gateway that she could not speak on behalf of the sorority without the consent of the chapter, in accordance with their bylaws. Spink also said she could not comment on the specifics of the report for a series of reasons, as they are “dealing with a conflict of interest and confidentiality issues with its general release.”
“All documents released on the matter were handled incorrectly and broke the confidentiality between us, the university, and the complainant,” Spink said.
“The scope of this issue is ongoing and changing rapidly, therefore Alpha Psi has decided to take these matters to the Dean of Students (DoS) for further consideration and investigation.”
Spink said the sorority will adhere to the decisions and recommendations made by the committee, and that “throughout this investigation we have been as forthcoming as humanly possible with the university body.”
She added that the sorority is committed to anti-hazing practices “and will continue to fight hazing when or if it is present.”
“Alpha Psi has a zero tolerance for hazing, harassment, and violence on any individual or group level.”
Alpha Psi is part of The Interfraternity Council (IFC), which hosts 10 fraternities and two sororities. IFC serves as a governing body for its member fraternities at the University of Alberta.
“I haven’t heard of any hazing stuff happening lately,” said Tuesday Young, president of IFC. “When I talk to the other presidents and delegates, I make sure to put down the policy that there’s no hazing whatsoever.”
Young added that the presidents of member fraternities are responsible for upholding university policies.
UASU vice-president says documents were “meant to be private”
Joannie Fogue, UASU vice-president (student life) who also sits on SGC said that the Final Complaint Investigation Report was presented to Students’ Council to keep council informed.
Fogue added that council went in-camera — meaning no guests of council are allowed to be present — because they “wanted to make sure that [they’re] respecting the privacy of both the complainant and respondent.”
“In this case, we wanted to make sure that we were respecting the complainant’s privacy, and their story as well. So making sure that is not public information,” Fogue said.
While the names of those involved were redacted from the report, certain positions and titles of those involved were included. When asked about this information being potentially identifying, Fogue said that “this information was meant to be private.”
“Upon review, we did make sure we removed the [presentation] from the late additions, because it was a sensitive subject and we wanted to make sure that no identifying information was made public,” Fogue said.
“Everything was supposed to be only sent to council. That way, everyone who signed a non-disclosure agreement … would have access to that information.”
All UASU councillors must sign a non-disclosure agreement in order to attend in-camera sessions.
In reference to the allegation from the sorority that documents were mishandled, Fogue said “that is something [the UASU] could work on with them … making sure that [the UASU] can amend that.”
“We always want to ensure that there is procedural fairness, and making sure that we’re respecting the complainant and the respondent’s wishes,” Fogue said. “That is definitely the approach that we did take.”
Shaw said the documents being released was not entirely surprising for her. “I kind of laughed when I first saw the email from [SGS] saying that the report and the documents had been mishandled and gone public. I kind of thought: ‘of course [they] would mess this up.’ ”
The offices at the university like the DoS and SGS have often made matters worse for Shaw, she said. “It very much was in line with what I expected of them.”
Committee rules to provisionally recognize sorority as student group
Student Group Services (SGS), which provides programming and administrative help for student-run clubs and organizations, conducted the Alpha Psi investigation.
According to UASU Bylaw 5100, an SGS staff member investigates complaints against student groups. Following the investigation, they compile a report for the Student Group Committee (SGC). The SGC provides student-led oversight to undergraduate student groups.
According to the investigation report obtained by The Gateway, the “infraction has caused widespread tension and distress in the student group for both members who were directly involved and those who have joined afterwards.”
Because of the impact the infraction had on the community, SGS decided to take a restorative approach, “in order to help the community heal from the events.”
“The group has already shown a willingness to grow and change, and the following recommendations will help them continue this work while also creating accountability,” the report said.
The report included recommendations for the UASU and Alpha Psi. The recommendations include Alpha Psi becoming provisionally recognized by the UASU, an increase in training related to hazing, and a reassessment of Alpha Psi’s ritual practices.
“As rituals are secret by nature, SGS will be relying on the group to take this step,” the report said.
A provisionally recognized student group must meet with SGS staff one time, at the end of the current executives’ term, for a progress check on the recommendations.
“Regardless of this outcome, the group will retain its U of A recognition as the complaint was not filed with the Dean of Students’ Office,” the report said.
On November 21, 2022, SGC approved all recommendations made by SGS including provisionally recognizing them as a student group. They did, however, amend two of the recommendations to make them more specific.
First, SGC specified that all Alpha Psi executives must undergo mandatory training for anti-hazing, and in addition the president must have mandatory conflict management training. Second, the UASU will not recognize the group until they “implement best practices,” according to the meeting minutes.
Shaw said that she has mixed feelings about the decision struck by the committee. “It makes sense that they should be allowed to continue as a student group, but I feel like the changes that they mentioned just weren’t enough,” she said.
She worries that the chapter does not have much oversight because of its small size and that there continues to be foundational issues with their sorority.
“I personally can’t see what kind of changes they can make that would make them an upstanding, respectable sorority,” she said.
“I will recognize I was in such a very specific situation that I kind of fell through the cracks. However, those cracks were very big cracks.”
Alpha Psi continues to be recognized as a student group by university
Shaw said that when Residence Services removed her from the Alpha Psi house, the Residence Coordinator offered a student group complaint through the Dean of Students as an option. At the time however, Shaw was not interested in filing a complaint, as she felt that there was still a chance to repair things with the sorority and a complaint could make it worse. A year later, she decided to file a complaint with SGS instead.
Hazing is a prohibited conduct in the Student Conduct Policy (SCP). Outlined under the Physical Assault and Abuse section, hazing is defined as a prohibited activity regardless of whether the subject consented, or the tradition of the organization.
Specific examples of hazing provided by the SCP include “any brutality of a physical nature,” “transportation and abandonment,” “physical or psychological abuse, sleep deprivation, physical confinement, coerced hazing of another, [and] compulsory servitude,” among other things.
In a comment provided to The Gateway, the Acting Vice-Provost and Dean of Students Helen Vallianatos said that “the university supports students who have experienced hazing and encourages them to seek assistance. It also advises individuals on complaint options.”
“Student groups may also be recognized by the UASU or GSA which have their own policies governing student group recognition and their own processes for responding to allegations of hazing or other misconduct.”
Katherine Zwicker, the Manager of Student Affairs with the DoS, explained that a decision made about a student group’s status with the UASU does not necessarily mean a change with their university recognition.
Zwicker said that “the university has mechanisms for taking measures without a formal complaint” but that this is case specific and “the Dean of Students would have to assess all the different information at hand.”
When asked if the university has a zero-tolerance policy for hazing, Zwicker said, “I’m not necessarily the person to say zero tolerance.”
“But yes, it’s a violation under our Student Conduct Policy or Student Groups Procedure.”
Shaw said that for her, these groups have lost the right to tell her what is confidential and have lost her respect. “And by putting my name out there, I say you can’t do that to me anymore.”
“Because I feel like for the past two years, my life hasn’t been my own. I’ve just been swept up by the current of what everyone else is doing and I just want to be able to feel like I’m supposed to be alive and have control over my life,” she said.
“I can take the narrative back for myself and say this is what happened to me. Nobody can skew that or sugar coat it.”
If you are dealing with thoughts of suicide you can call the 24-hour Canada-wide crisis service hotline: 1-833-456-4566.
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